#GamerGate vs. Elevatorgate—A comparison

There have been almost 2 million tweets regarding #GamerGate. I have typed out a few myself, along with two blog posts prior to this one about it.

The reason(s) I am on the #GamerGate “side” of this squabble? First, I love video games. My live-in girlfriend would attest to the amount of time I spend with an Xbox 360 controller in my hand. I have been playing video games since Pong. My first “gaming system” was a Commodore 64. I’ve played on PC, NES, SNES, Xbox, Xbox 360, and Wii.

Second, I’m against ideologies. All of them. In my opinion, ideologies hold certain beliefs to be inviolate, regardless of evidence. Religions, political “wings,” and academic feminism are all examples of ideologies. They all have, at their core, a belief or set of beliefs that they consider “great truths.” Any evidence that conflicts with these “great truths” is ignored, belittled, or actively covered up.

On to the comparison.

One of the better descriptions of the Elevatorgate drama I have found on the web is this one from Freethought Kampala. The author goes into tedious detail and it’s all very well sourced. I have only a few issues with it, one of which is how it claims the drama started. I don’t mean that the post is inaccurate, just that it doesn’t go far enough back in time to the real beginning of the conflict.

In my opinion, the incident (or something like it) had been percolating beneath the surface for a good while before the offer of a hot caffeinated beverage divided the atheist community.

#GamerGate (or GamerGate ) has an equally excellent summary at Know Your Meme. It, too, suffers from the lack of background information on the roiling troubles in the gaming community that preceded it.

Both followed a pattern that can be summarized by:

1. A group, hobby, or interest consisting of mostly males (due to disinterest by females) becomes more popular.

2. Females begin to join in. Some out of genuine interest and some ideologues who have ulterior motives.

3. Ideological joiners begin to complain that women are underrepresented due to sexism (rather than the differences in interest levels).

4. Some original group members disagree that sexism is the cause. This disagreement is then claimed to be proof of the sexism in a form of argument called a KafkaTrap.

5. Tempers flare. Trolls, seeing the opportunity to create strife, send harassment to the ideologues. These harassments are then touted as further “proof” of the sexism.

The pattern is a proven method of infiltrating a group with an interest and co-opting the focus of the group onto the ideology of the infiltrators. I’m assuming I don’t have to actually tell you the name of this ideology. It has been making its “slow march through the institutions” for over 40 years. The result of this infiltration is either capitulation to the ideologues or a schism.

A schism is not the end for the ideologically driven. It simply means they will have to play the long game. This usually involves media-assisted denouncements of those opposing the ideology. They are dehumanized. They are grouped in with the worst trolls and shit-stirrers.

Sometimes these schisms are sparked by a single event that releases the tensions and passions of the build-up phase in a fiery, cathartic moment. In EG, it was the elevator incident and the subsequent infighting about it. In GG, it was the Zoe Post (along with Mundane Matt getting a DMCA and TFYC being decried by ideologues).

History

In the late 1990s through mid 2000s, Jack Thompson, a currently disbarred attorney, brought a good deal of attention to violent video games. Thompson routinely denigrated gamers as “brain impaired” and compared them with “Hitler Youth.” The gamers seem better prepared for battles than did the atheists, but that may be false confidence. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

In the much more recently popular atheism community, the ideologues were beginning to show up in the late 2000s to the present. A post from 2010 when read today conveys a sense of foreboding doom that was likely not apparent at the time. Atheists, used to logical, reasoned debate with theists, at first tried the same approach to these new claims of sexism, privilege, patriarchy, and “lived experience.” The traditional methods were only moderately effective, and the ideologues refined their arguments.

In 2012, Anita Sarkeesian, a Canadian communications major with a MA in social and political thought from York University, announced a Kickstarter campaign to fund her latest project “Tropes vs Women in Video Games” on her Feminist Frequency YouTube channel. In stark contrast to most (if not all) of her previous FF videos (several of which had taken issue with video games), the comment section was open for any YouTube user to leave comments. The result was predictable. Irate Internet denizens, trolls, and gamers flooded the video comments section with hateful posts.

Sarkeesian then used these hurtful comments as evidence that there is a sexism problem in gaming. She parlayed these comments, along with a flash game depicting her visage in an ever-increasing brutalized condition, into nearly US$160,000.

The year before (2011), Rebecca Watson, also the proud owner of a communications degree, described her polite encounter with a man in a Dublin hotel elevator (for the life of me I can’t figure out why this wasn’t called Liftgate in deference to the UK term for elevator).

Striking parallels

Both EG and GG began in what were originally male-dominated interests groups.

Both EG and GG had ideologically minded joiners once the groups or hobby became more popular.

Both used the disproportionate numbers of males as evidence for sexism, when a more reasoned explanation would have just been interest levels (which were organically already beginning to change).

Both harnessed hateful comments and untraceable Internet “threats” as evidence for the claimed sexism.

Both claimed that they received the hateful comments solely due to their gender (rather than the draconian moderation of comments or the refusal to engage in discourse).

Both use emotional leverage provided by the deeply ingrained desire to protect women as a shield from more rational assaults on their points.

Today

So, here we are. An Internet world filled with terms like privilege, cis-het, transmisogyny, internalized oppression, and Tumblr. God help us all (and I’m an atheist).

The way forward should be the same for both groups. Hard science over emotion, logic over feelings, and civility above all. The reason civility is so important is because these people thrive on “threats” and “harassment.” Every anonymous threat or vulgar insult are like Pac-Man “power pills” for their cause. These behaviors are so beneficial to them that it has become popular to question their veracity. This, too, plays into their hands. Call for the law enforcement to apprehend the credible threats. Call for folks to report and ban the threats that aren’t actionable by law enforcement.

Gamers, at first glance, seem better prepared for an Internet battle of ideas and ideologies. They’ve dealt with the likes of Jack Thompson and have even moved a developer to create a more fleshed-out game ending through sheer determination. What they lack, however, is the experience with emotionally manipulative rhetoric. Gamers, like atheists, are not seen sympathetically by the overall population. The ideologues, by claiming that they represent women (the most sympathetically perceived group in society), have a decided advantage in an emotional standoff. It’s a bit like charging the end boss as a level 5 thief.

The only way to regain popular opinion and stave off this infiltration is coldly. Calm, reasoned points invalidating the claims of the ideologues IS effective but slow. The email campaigns targeting advertisers is also a great strategy. Be warned, though: there is no quick-win here. There are no cheat codes to level up and beat the end boss. You really have to grind it out and remain calm.

Good luck, and Get Some Time.

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